How to Wash Dishes When There’s No Running Water — Perfect for Camping, Summer Houses, Van Life, and More

published Aug 4, 2022
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Most people are used to cleaning dishes in the sink or popping them into a dishwasher. But what do you do in those moments when there’s no running water? Whether you’re camping or at a bare-bones summer house, there might be a moment where you run into the problem of having little to no running water or modern amenities. This can become tricky when cleaning up after dinner, especially if you don’t want to use paper plates. But there’s a great and efficient system you can implement to get your dishes clean without too much hassle.

All you need to wash dishes without running water is to create a cleaning line with three bins. I learned this method when I was in our summer house in Poland. It was the house my dad grew up in in the country and had no running water or electricity. My extended family loves to go there for mini-reunions during the summer, and since they’re always special and festive occasions, we like to bring glasses, platters, and pretty plates to set the scene. Once the festivities are over, the last crumb cake slice is eaten, and the final cup of coffee is sipped, it’s time to clean up at the station.

The first bin or tub is your wash pot, the second is your rinse pot, and the third is your second-rinse pot. Before soaking your dishes in the wash pot, remove as much food as possible from your plates, bowls, or utensils to avoid making the tub murky with food bits. Let it soak for up to 10 minutes, depending on when you finished eating the food. Add a little bit of dish soap to the tub, and begin scrubbing the plates. (If you have access to a kettle, you can make the water in this tub hot to help clean the dishes even more efficiently.) 

Once clean, put them into the first rinse pot, which will remove the suds. Once the suds are gone, dunk them into the second-rinse pot to ensure all the soap is removed. Have someone at the end of the line to dry the cutlery and plates with a towel. 

While washing, keep an eye on the second-rinse tub, changing the water periodically if it begins to get too soapy. And that’s it! This method takes a little more time than washing dishes at a sink, but not much longer. It’s a great workaround for cleaning dishes when there’s no running water.